What is Acid Jazz?

A definition made by Gregory B Beuthin.

So what is Acid Jazz? It is a funky music style which incorporates elements of jazz, 70s funk, hip-hop, soul, as well as other things. It can be all live, it can be sampled, it can be a mixture of both. Generally, the focus of Acid Jazz is the music, as opposed to the lyrics/ words (versus rap mixed with jazz samples, which focuses on the words, and maybe a little on heavy beats). It is a groovy music that sometimes wants to make you move, sometimes wants to tell you what's going down, and sometimes just sits in the background as you bob your head, not quite knowing why you are feeling so funky.
Now, not everything we talk about on this list is strictly acid jazz. The New School American jazz generation, led by San Francisco's Alphabet Soup, Mo'Fessionals, Charlie Hunter Trio, LA's Solsonics, and NYC's Groove Collective are not necessarily acid jazz. But they FUNKY! So they are fair game. :-) Same with Digable Planets, Guru, Massive Attack, Stereo MCs etc. After a while, you get a certain feel. The relevant question is not, "Is this acid jazz?" but "Does this kick the funky beat?" We aren't interested in *just* jeep beats- we want that "schmoov" feeling.

Some other comments (etrinida@scf.usc.edu)

Well there shouldn't be a _strict_ formula, but you need some kind of criteria to classify something in Acid Jazz. To say Acid Jazz has or should have no kind of criteria to define it as such is ridiculous. So you mean to say Anthrax is acid jazz? Crash Test Dummies is acid jazz? Barry Manilow is acid jazz? Of course you would agree with me that they aren't, but you have to have some kind of criteria.
Other people would use definitions of acid jazz based on philosophy, fashion, politics, etc. As a musician, I prefer to define acid jazz using musical elements. Most acid jazz I hear has these elements:
Drums - playing funk/hip-hop rhythms, focusing on basic beat (not many tom fills, etc), lots of shuffle play on the snare, which is usually a metal or brass piccolo snare.
Percussion - if existent, plays afro-latin style rhythms on congas, or syncopated shaker/cabasa rhythms. Tempo is usually no lower than 88bpm nor higher than 116bpm.
Bass - usually melodic, played straight with fingers (i.e. no slapping, popping, pick playing). Occasionally standup acoustic bass is used.
Guitar - jazz/funk chords (9ths/11ths/13ths) played in high registers, usually played clean or through wah-wah pedal. No powerchords.
Keyboards - simple keyboard arrangements (i.e. one or two keyboard instruments are present at one time), usually focusing on basic keyboard sounds (i.e. piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Organ), occasional strings.
Horns - Horn section, usually sax/trumpet/trombone trio, sometimes with flute. Usually playing tight unison lines.
Again, these aren't hard set rules for acid jazz, nor do they describe all a-jazz groups (Us3, Guru, etc) don't seem to fit in here, but they do describe acid Jazz of the BNH/Jamiroquai/Incognito/Solsoinics/etc variety, the big band vocal acid jazz.

Some other comments (stepnhigh@aol.com)

Acid jazz is the new soul, anything with its head and mind in the history and the feet to the dancefloor, eyes to the future, whether it's a band or a d.j. or a computer. If it's got the groove than it's acid jazz.
Acid jazz is a buzz-word to give a definition for all those people who have listened to the gamut of music and found one thing in common (for their favorite bands) -- a deep, jazzy, groovy sound. There is no technical definition, there are no common themes, except to exist together (preferably on the dance floor) internationally.
If a definition is what you need, I say define it by what you feel, rather than by what you hear or read or smell. It's very simple really. Trust your soul.

Some other comments (kajst14+@pitt.edu)

right on! all this talk talk talk about definitions and technical specifications has been dragging this discussion down for the past few weeks. what does the music do to you? what do you do to the music?
as i type this i'm plugged into stevie w. innervisions. can you dig it?
do you have to name and list everthing you sense? how about coming down from the left side and listening to the right side of your brain? feel it, man, what does it feel like? describe how acid jazz affects your inside.
express yourself! if it makes you think about when you were a kid when a song could affect every part of you - then tell about it. were you inspired to shake your booty during that last song? or did you fall back into your mood chair when the music slowed down just now? what do the lyrics say to you? it doesn't have to be hip to express yourself about this music. enough lists of whose cool and who thinks what is and what isn't acid jazz.

Some other comments (gerryv@massive.com)

A great way to start listening to this music is to check out the many quality compilation series. Look for Totally Wired, Acid Jazz, Jazz Juice, The Rebirth Of Cool, MasterCuts, Talkin Loud, Ultimate Beats & Breaks, Blue Note's Blue Break Beats, New Breed's Fat Jazzy Grooves, PolyGram's Funk Essentials, Luv N Haight's Jazz Dance Classics, and so many more. If you're looking at European records, check for the words "rare groove" too (these will likely be made up of mostly older American songs, but usually well compiled).
Now for your eyes and mind, treat 'em to Straight No Chaser magazine. Get any and all issues you can lay your hands on. You won't be disappointed. New mags coming out too, stay tuned.
And to get the full experience, go check out a good souljazzfunkhiphop club, hopefully with a great balance between live acts and the DJs. Remember that the DJs are not fillers between bands, and conversely, that the bands are not fillers between DJs.
I first encountered the words "acid jazz" many years back with the Acid Jazz label itself (started in 1988) and a European series of compilations also called Acid Jazz (also started in 1988). Anyway, Acid Jazz the label released their Totally Wired compilation series containing both new and old (read jazz originals) tracks. The Acid Jazz titled series had *only* "diggin' in the crates" selections. The following is taken from Acid Jazz Vol. 2 liner notes written by DJ Chris Bangs: "When you've finished listening to this album, you probably still won't be sure what Acid Jazz really is. That's exactly what Acid Jazz is all about. It's new music, old music, it's esoteric music." At the beginning of this decade, 4th & B'way (UK) dropped a new series "The Rebirth of Cool" which many on this list may be familiar with. By the way, the US version of Rebirth is basically five-eighths of the original Rebirth Three, and with no tracks from the first two in the series. The first Rebirth was mostly hip hop tracks, more than half of the album imported from America. The liner notes make no mention of acid jazz: "perhaps it's futile to search for a label for this music, the best nineties music is difficult to tag, it reaches beyond such definitions."
For interesting reading, check JAZZ, by John Fordham, Dorling Kindersely books, 1993. His history of jazz includes contemporary excursions, acknowledging and recognizing the "new" sound. There's even a full page devoted to sampling, in the jazz instruments section, with Gang Starr and Tribe "at the fore." How many times is "acid jazz" mentioned? Only once-as the record label.
My point in this lengthy, messy message is that this new/old music is hard to pin down. And that's what's so great about it. This music really does transcend time and space, relating to many people of seemingly disparate tastes. Its evolution is a little complex, but not that much. It became popular as a form of dance music. I believe its roots lie in the best elements of jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, latin, and more. It owes a lot to the history and artists of black music. To rule out hip hop as "simply rapping over a loop" reveals little appreciation for truly creative hip hop artists. I can go on about lyrical content and cadence, and hip hop song construction as a post modern movement.
Using the words "acid jazz" is OK to me I suppose as a very very loose label for this (not really) new sound. I question the exclusionary behavior that a wholly defined label seems to illicit from most people. I do appreciate the words as a rallying point bringing folks together to give a little listen. But don't just stop there-give a big listen. Music is about moving you...

Some other comments (ssilcoff@ccs.carleton.ca)

From DJ Trevor Walker, one of the FINEST DJs and the father of the Ottawa jazz scene: (Acid jazz) is ethnic urban music, ethnic in the sense that in urban centres there's a different culture from rural areas. Even if you go from city to city there's different cultures, different terminologies people use.
It takes its roots from the drum, from African music, from Latin American music, jazz, be-bop, rock and roll, poetry. It's just a fusion of all kinds of different sounds on an urban tip. It's funky.
It's really hard to put your finger on it...It's just good music. If you want to call it acid jazz it's the easiest thing you can.

Here, from my article, are some quotes from the Canadian label manager of Talkin' Loud, Livia Tortella: The typical acid jazz fan is someone who is turned off by commercial mainstream music. "They want to dance to something that has depth. Something with teeth, with soul, with a concept behind it, more challenging, and at the same time, very popular.
"People who are into (acid jazz) are really knowledgeable, passionate about music, buying five to six CDs a week. It's a musical forum for individuals who really enjoy quality. This is a core music buying audience."

The end...

I think it would be useful to make a case that acid jazz's roots are firmly planted in the music of Charlie Parker, and that a large part of today's acid jazz owes its distinctiveness to today's technology. Think of sampling and of the evolution of the Japanese style recently from heavy sampling and studio production to the more live sound.
Much respect to you for your opening of the vaults of history to explain influences, but I feel you have slighted the Blue Note 60s/70s jazz-fusion experience. Folks like Donald Byrd and Grant Green deserve their props. It is interesting to note the once moribund Blue Note is now active, repositioning itself as "The World's Most Sampled Label" (so reads the sticker on 'Blue Break Beats Vol.1') and ultimately trying to wean a whole new generation of jazz fans from among the multitudes of hiphoppers.
You place Groove Collective outside the inner ring of acid jazz. My feeling is that their sound DEFINES acid jazz. So goes the same for Izit and Sidewinder. How about a bit more on the dynamic, crazy scene of small labels like Soul/Jazz, Tongue&Groove, Boogie Back?
I placed Groove Collective on the "outside" ring because, at least to *me*, their music doesn't have the infectious groove of the UK sound. I'm finding that this is a big difference between US and UK "acid-jazz". The UK relied heavily on the 70s funk influence. The US is coming more from a straight jazz influence, and even using less sampled sounds. Compare the jazzy styles of US based Solsonics and Groove Collective to the speed freak stuff of UFO. Of course, this is all IMHO. And that doesn't mean that Groove Collective isn't excellent! :-)